(Re)conceptualising Asian Civil Society in the Age of Post-Politics
Date : 16 Aug 2018 - 17 Aug 2018
Venue : AS8 Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC
Download Program & Abstracts_as of 8 Aug

Asia is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions of the world (United Nations, 2014), and many Asian cities now face an array of socio-economic and environmental problems that have emerged as a result of this urbanisation and (re)development process. In response to these challenges, questions surrounding how a ‘liveable’ and ‘sustainable’ city can be realised are found within the discourses of governments, scholars, and civil society in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and more. Whilst existing work reviews top-down initiatives addressing these concerns (see Clark and Moonen, 2016), what remains to be examined is the impact and role of civil society in urban governance, especially in the contemporary context whereby many Asian nations have embraced ‘post-political’ ideologies and practices. This refers to a process whereby the political is evacuated out of the social, resulting in governance that is populist in nature, centering around consensus and agreement, rather than debate and disagreement (Wilson and Swyngedouw, 2014). Swyngedouw (2009) argues that this has emerged in parallel to the rise of neoliberal governance and decentralisation, which has led to the blending of the private and public spheres.

This conference seeks to better understand how civil society in Asian cities are renegotiating existing - and establishing new - solidarities with each other and with other organisations or institutional bodies to alter the form of urban governance in the post-political era. In particular, we focus on two key aspects of the urban condition; that of the natural (the physical resources and features on the landscape) and the cultural (the tangible and intangible features that pertain to human activities), as respectively represented by urban environmental governance and urban heritage conservation debates. Although urban heritage and urban environmental governance may appear as disparate topics, they are in fact interrelated domains. Both are central components within discussions on urban liveability and sustainability (see Balsas, 2004; Lloyd et al. 2016), and are therefore pivotal and powerful considerations in the generation of new urban governance initiatives.

This conference brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who, by examining issues pertaining to urban heritage and natural environment management, trace the emerging relationships between civil society actors and organisations across the scale of the local, regional and (inter)national spheres. In particular, we seek to understand the motivations behind city governments’ engagements in heritage and environmental conservation issues. We also aim to refine our thinking about how civil society addresses existing urban development and environmental issues, and envisions potential alternative/new forms of urban governance for urban futures. Some central questions that this conference addresses include:

  1. What form has the ‘post-political’ city taken in Asian cities and who is to blame for it? Is there any variation in how post-politics has taken shape between localities, why/why not?
  2. How is civil society conceptualised in Asia, and how are civil groups positioned in relation to local or national governments in the region?
  3. What networks between civil society, the local/regional/national government, and international agencies have emerged within the context of post-political governance? What directionality do these networks assume (e.g. ‘upward’, collaborative links between civil society and local or national governments, or ‘outward’ connections with transnational organisations)?
  4. What opportunities and challenges has the post-political framework wrought for civil society; and what implications does this have for how urban governance in Asian cities will manifest in the future?


Dr Sonia Lam-Knott
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Dr Creighton Connolly
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Assoc Prof Ho Kong Chong
Asia Research Institute, and Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore